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Cellular Technology Monitors Sturgeon Across 300 Miles of Remote River

Colt Holley, Chad Vishy, Patrick Braaten

June 22, 2020

USGS scientists from the Fort Peck Project Office and Columbia Environmental Research Center have developed and deployed radio telemetry stations with cellular communications capabilities (See previous blog post: USGS Redefines, “Working Remotely”) on the Upper Missouri and Lower Yellowstone Rivers. The telemetry stations continuously monitor pallid sturgeon migration in the Upper Missouri River Basin. These new telemetry stations allow scientists and managers remote access to near real-time telemetry data.  At 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM, the logging stations upload telemetry transmitter detection data to a server. This allows biologists to closely track and target specific individuals during the migration and spawning season, as well as monitor critical junction points. 

USGS Fish Biologist, Colt Holley, working in collaboration with biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
USGS Fish Biologist, Colt Holley, working in collaboration with biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, inserts a new cellular communication module into a radio telemetry station near the confluence of the Powder and Yellowstone Rivers, Montana.

Each of these stations has been placed in key locations to assist biologists in monitoring pallid sturgeon migrations, and to direct manual tracking efforts of target fishes to specific areas. Two stations were placed on the Upper Missouri River – one upstream of the confluence of the Yellowstone River and another 180 miles upstream in the outfall of the Fort Peck spillway. Two stations were also deployed on the Yellowstone River. Four miles up the Yellowstone River, a cellular station now monitors individuals entering and exiting an area between two previously defined spawning patches. The second station on the Yellowstone River was placed at river mile 147, near the Powder River confluence (shown above). Pallid sturgeon in previous years have been documented to migrate up the Yellowstone and into the Powder River. The new station monitors this important junction and documents fish moving to this point, past this point, or potentially into the Powder River.

Development, refinement, and deployment of the cellular-linked telemetry logging stations will continue.  One additional cellular-enabled station will be deployed in mid-summer 2020. Cellular communication capability will be added to many of the more than 20 other radio telemetry stations located throughout the basin in 2021.  After this initial year of broad-scale deployment, biologists from collaborating agencies (USGS, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Bureau of Reclamation, USFWS, USACE) will discuss performance of the stations and options for improvement, including evaluation of detection capabilities and automated data reporting.